I Discovered My Husband Had Been Cheating On Me After He Died

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I Discovered My Husband Had Been Cheating On Me After He Died
Heartbreak

In 2003, after nearly 14 years of marriage, Julie Metz learned that her husband Henry had been cheating on her with multiple women. Shattering to any wife, news of his  infidelity hit Metz particularly hard—Henry had passed away six months prior. The revelation of his rampant adultery — including a three-year affair with a close family friend — dealt Metz a second, equally wounding blow. In her memoir, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, Metz recounts the aftermath of this revelation and chronicles her path to self-renewal and rediscovery of both love and trust.

Along the way, she confronts her husband's mistress, including the ostensible family friend, Cathy. Metz also takes on the project her husband left unfinished: a book on the subject of umami, a Japanese word used to describe perfect flavor in a food dish, and discovers her own definition of perfection falls far outside the manic relationship she'd had with Henry.

We spoke with Metz about her experiences and solicited her advice for coping with loss of a partner — whether to death or deception — and how to rediscover trust and love.

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YourTango: It was such a unique experience for you to first lose your husband and then have to overcome his infidelity. Looking back, was one harder to move past?

Julie Metz: When my husband died, I felt like life as I had known it was over, but I felt more socially supported then. Dealing with a new identity as the topic of social scandal was very difficult because, at that time, I had been a very private person.

Six months after his death, I went on this trip with my daughter. When I returned is when I found out about the infidelity and that hit me like a ton of bricks. That was just emotionally devastating in a very different kind of way. I really felt reduced then to nothing, again. I felt like what I had gained in the last six months suddenly evaporated. Suddenly people were looking at me as this kind of pitiable person. Essentially my life had become that of a tabloid. It was right there in my own town, and they all knew all the people involved, so it was intensely humiliating for awhile.

What hurts more: the emotional or the physical betrayal?

Without a doubt, categorically, the sex becomes irrelevant. It's the lying. And it’s the understanding that your partner has had some kind of deep emotional connection with somebody else that led them to deceive you in such a layered, complicated way that it started to infuse your daily life. So, the knowledge of that was the thing I had to recover from. When the trust goes, that's the end. For me, what was upsetting was that he destroyed my ability to trust somebody.

Have you ultimately forgiven Henry and Cathy?

To me, forgiveness is that you don't feel angry, you don't feel bitter, you've moved on with your life and you can in some way hope that those people — if Henry was still alive — could do something, could have a second chance themselves. To that degree, yes.

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Did it help you to read the correspondence between them?

At first it was a terrible shock to discover a whole different type of discourse that he used with these other women. He wrote to them and spoke to them in a way that didn't resemble in any way the kind of language that he used with me. Ultimately it was enlightening. I learned that there are people — and my husband was one, and I guess Cathy was one, too — who can really compartmentalize their lives. It helped me understand that to some degree he was just really good at it. I could stop blaming myself for missing all of it.

In retrospect, were there signs of his infidelity that you missed?

In retrospect, Henry and Cathy spent way too much time on their own. I would say that what your mom told you is probably true. If your husband or long-time boyfriend is suddenly talking a lot about a woman friend, even if they insist that they're "just friends," that, sad to say, is definitely a sign that something is up. For example, when Governor Mark Sanford says "We're just e-mail friends," I don't buy it. I say that's seven years of foreplay. To have that level of intimacy, even in correspondence, suggests that there is an attraction and that it's something to pay attention to. The reasons my husband got away with it with Cathy is because we spent so much time as two couples together. That was what made it look normal.

The other signs are when he starts staying late at work, or has sudden changes of plans. When someone starts to change their appearance in a way — even if it's in a positive way, and even if it seems to be for you, maybe they're going to the gym a lot and getting really buff — I think these are all signs. 

Is there any advice you can offer to a) single parents who are starting to date and b) specifically to those who have lost a spouse.

I went about it in a rather bumbling way. Mostly because I hadn't been on a date since I was 26. The whole dating culture had changed, and I didn't know what to do. When I met my husband we didn't even have "online." So suddenly, I was confronting this very new way of meeting people. It can take a while to figure out. In the end, when I met the man that I'm with now, the two of us tried to make something old-fashioned out of new technology. We spent a long time writing to each other before we even spoke on the phone and before we met.

The very good advice I got from the character named Elliot in the book, and I give this advice to all my friends who have children and are dating, is the very important three-month rule: You really should date somebody for about three months before you bring them home to your children. It really takes three months to figure out someone's personality. You don't want to keep bringing home people for your kids to meet and take them away again when you realize that he isn't right for you. The times I didn't listen to Elliot I was very sorry. Kids are very resilient but you don't want to keep taking advantage of their generosity.

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You say that your state of umami is your current relationship because it doesn't have the desperate longing-filled characteristics of the love affairs of your younger days. I think so many people can relate to those feelings. Is there any advice you can offer on how to get to that state of perfection without going through an ordeal like yours?

I learned that the best moments that I've had were everyday-ish moments. Time with your family, doing something enjoyable with your kid, being with your loved one in a way that feels sane and good rather than crazy-in-love and then crazy-disappointment. My marriage was very extreme. There would be these moments where you really felt "we're soul mates" or "we're just fantastic," and then, "we're driving each other crazy and fighting and very destructive."

What I have found after much searching is a person I can be with in a calmer way. This means that you can then do all the wonderful things you want to do in your life. I see a lot of people where it's almost like the relationship is their job. The amount of time and exhausting energy that they spend devoting to their relationship saps their energy. I feel like it's got to bwe easier. When I see good marriages, I see a team where people are helping each other and providing support for each other. A damaged relationship is where one person is sucking up all the air in the room, and the other person is floundering. Or when is nobody is prospering at all.

The problem that my husband had was that everything had to be racheted up to a greater intensity of wonderfulness. And that's just not how everyday life is. There's an enormous amount of tedium in everyday life. Especially when you are running and taking care of a family, there's going to be plenty of that. If you can't find a way to get some kind of pleasure from that then you're sunk.

When you look back at the times with your friends, your loved ones, or your kids, it really is those little moments that are ultimately very important—those are the real exchanges. Going to the great concert or the wild party, that's fun and everything but that's not when you do the real stuff of your life. I have tried very hard to pay attention to those little moments. And again it's not always easy; sometimes you get bogged down with your work or your clients need things and you lose your temper. We all are just people. The good news is that you can always keep trying. 

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Genevieve Lill is a writer and Editor in Chief of Simplemost.

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